(Translated from the French)
To write an introduction to the Bible seems to me a deeply serious and difficult matter. To take up a Book which is the harmonious whole of all God’s thoughts, of all His ways with regard to man, and of His determinate purpose as to the Christ, and as to man in Him; wherein also is set forth the revelation of what God is, of man’s responsibility, and of what God Himself has done for man, as well as of the new relationships with God into which man enters through Christ;—a Book which reveals what God is in His nature morally, and the dispensations in which He glorifies Himself in the sight of the heavens and their inhabitants; which lays bare the secrets and the state of the human heart, and at the same time unveils before it things invisible; which begins where the past touches eternity, and leads us on through a development and a solution of all moral questions to the final point where the future merges in eternity, according to God;—which fathoms moral questions in the perfect light of God revealed, and makes known to us the groundwork of new relationships with Him, according to what He is, and what He is in infinite love… to undertake, I say, to open up the path (in as far as it may be given to man to be the instrument for it, for God alone can do it effectually) so that the mind of man may understand the ways of God as He has revealed them, is a task that may well make one recoil before its difficulty and seriousness, when we reflect that we have to do with God’s thoughts as revealed by Himself.
How marvellous indeed is this divine parenthesis in the midst of eternity, in which the febrile activity of the fallen creature displays itself in thoughts which all perish, urged on by him who wields his power as a liar and a murderer; but in which also the nature and the thoughts of God, His moral being and His determinate purpose, until then eternally hidden in Himself, are, while testing man and manifesting what he is, revealed and fulfilled through the Son, that they may in their final result appear in an eternity of glory to come, in which God, surrounded by blissful creatures who know Him and understand Him, will manifest Himself as Light and Love in the full results of His own eternal and imperishable thoughts; but where also all that has been wrought by His grace and wisdom throughout the things that are seen here below, will be displayed in its glorious and eternal fruits; where God— Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—known of Himself before time was, will be known by innumerable blessed beings—known by them in their own happiness when time shall be no more. And this world is the wonderful sphere where everything is made to work to that end; and the heart of man the scene wherein all takes place and is morally wrought out, if so be that God, in whom and by whom and for whom are all these things, dwell in him by His Spirit to give him intelligence; and if Christ, who is the Object of all that is done, be his sole Object. The Bible, then, is the revelation which God has given to us of all this wondrous system, and of all the facts which relate to it. Is it surprising that one shrinks from the task of opening up such things? But we have to do with a God of goodness, who delights to help us in everything that may conduce to an intelligent apprehension of the revelation which He has been pleased to give us of His thoughts. There are certain great principles that mark this revelation, which we would notice before going into the details.
The first great idea that stamps its character on the revelation of God, is that of the two Adams:—the first man and the Second; the responsible man, and the Man of God’s counsels, in whom God, whilst confirming the principle of responsibility, reveals Himself, as well as His sovereign counsels and the grace which reigns through righteousness. These two principles predominate throughout the contents of the Bible. But although, in the ways of God, His goodness shewed itself continually until His Son came, yet grace, in the full force of the term, was only prophetically revealed, and withal veiled so as not to interfere with the then subsisting relations of man with God, and often in forms which can only be understood when the New Testament has furnished us with the key to them.
This brings me to two other principles which are found revealed and developed in the Scriptures. The one is God’s government in the scene of this world, a government sure and certain, though long hidden, unless indeed on a small scale in Israel, and even then obscured in the eyes of men, because iniquity prevailed (Psalm 73), and because God had ways of deeper moment as well as greater blessings in store for His own in the midst of this government,—ways, in which, for the spiritual good of His people, He made use of the evils He permitted to arise. The history contained in the Bible unfolds to the spiritual man the course of these ways; the Psalms give reflections upon them by the Spirit of Christ in His own, rising betimes in their expressions up to the experience of Christ Himself, and thus becoming directly prophetic. But I am anticipating a little. The other divine principle is sovereign grace, which takes up poor sinners, blots out their sins, and places them in the same glory as the Son (become man for this), “conformed to the image of his Son,” effecting this according to the righteousness of God, by means of Christ’s sacrifice, by which He has fully glorified God in respect of sin. Some features of this sovereign grace are found in God’s government, and are displayed when the result of His government is brought out; but it is fully disclosed in the heavenly glory.
Intimately connected with this government of God is the Law; it establishes the rule of good and evil according to God, and founds it upon His authority. The Lord furnishes us with the expression of it, in drawing from various parts of the Pentateuch principles, which, were they established and operative in the heart, would lead to obedience, and to the accomplishment of God’s will, and would be productive of human righteousness. The Ten commandments do not create duty, the existence of which is founded on the relationships in which God has set man.
There is this difference between the principles of the law as laid down by Jesus, and the Ten commandments, that the principles drawn by Him from the books of Moses comprehend absolute good in all its extent without question of sin, whilst the Ten commandments suppose sin to be there, and, with one exception, are prohibitory of all unfaithfulness to the relationships of which they treat. It is important to notice that the last of these commandments forbids the first motion of the heart towards the sins previously condemned: “the sting is in the tail.” Moreover, the various relationships were the basis of duty, the commandments forbidding men to fail in them. But the principle of law, of any law, is this: that the approbation of Him to whom I am responsible, my reception in favour by Him who has the right to judge of my faithfulness to my responsibility, or of my shortcomings—in a word, my happiness—depends upon what I am in this respect, upon what I am towards Him. For the relationships are established by the Creator’s will and authority, and when I fail in them, I sin against Him who established them. Although the sin may be directly against the person I am in relation with, yet as the obligation was imposed by the will of God and is the expression of His will, I in fact despise His authority and disobey Him. The principle of law is that the acceptance of the person depends upon his conduct; grace does what it pleases in goodness, in conformity to the nature and the character of Him who acts in grace.
There was another important element in the ways of God, contrasting with the law, and that is the promises. These began with the Fall itself, but as a principle in the ways of God, with Abraham, when the world was already fallen, not only into sin, but into idolatry, Satan and demons having taken possession of the place of God in man’s mind. Now Abram’s election, his call, and the gift of the promises made to him, were all connected with grace. Thus Abram followed God1 towards the country that God pointed out to him, but in it he possessed not whereon to set his foot. This introduces another vital principle, that of living by faith, receiving God’s word as such, and counting upon His faithful goodness. The promise evidently depended upon grace; it was not the thing given, though this was assured by the word of God; and faith counted upon the promise, and more or less clearly introduced the thought of blessing outside the world; otherwise, he who had faith obtained nothing by his faith. The consciousness of God’s favour was doubtless so far something, but it depended upon faith in His fidelity as to what He had promised. But in connection with promises there is an important point to notice: there are unconditional, and there are conditional promises. The promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were unconditional; whereas those made at Sinai were conditional. God’s word never confounds them. Moses calls to remembrance the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Exod. 32:13); Solomon, what came in under Moses (1 Kings 8:51-53); Nehemiah 1, refers to Moses; Nehemiah 9, first to Abraham as the source of all, then to Moses, when it becomes a question of God’s ways. It is of this difference that the apostle speaks in Galatians 3:16-20. Under the law, when there was a Mediator, the enjoyment of the eifect of the promise depended upon the faithfulness of Israel, as much as upon the fidelity of God; but then all was lost from the outset. The fulfilment of the simple promise of God depended upon His fidelity; in this case, all was sure. We learn further, by the passage alluded to in the Epistle to the Galatians, that it is to Christ, the Second Man, that the promises made to Abraham were confirmed, and they will be fulfilled surely—all of them Yea, and all Amen—when His day, which the prophets had ever in view, shall come. But here the difference, already pointed out, between the government of this world and sovereign grace, again finds its application. The grace that sets us in heaven is not prophesied of at all; prophecy belongs to what is earthly, and so far as relates to the Lord Jesus, contains the revelation of what He was to be upon the earth at His first coming; and then continues with what He will be upon the earth when He comes again, without alluding to that which should take place in the interval between those two events. Still, the facts as to the Person of the Lord are announced in those Psalms which reveal to us more of His personal history; His resurrection (Psa. 16), His ascension (Psa. 68), His session at the right hand of God (Psa. no); and as to the Holy Spirit, they teach us that Christ would receive it as man—that the gifts are not only gifts of God, but that Christ would receive them “in Man,” that is, as Man in connection with mankind. On the other hand, except the desires of David in Psalm 72 and 145, where the subject treated of is what concerns the Lord’s Person, the Psalms do not take up the state of things that shall follow His return: whilst in the prophets, this future state is amply described in the fulfilment of the promises made to the Jews, and its consequences for the Gentiles. There is another point that may be noticed: when the prophets on God’s part give encouragements to faith for the time then present, and to meet trying circumstances, the Spirit of God uses this to penetrate into the future, when God will interpose in favour of His people.2 But I am going, perhaps, too much into detail.
Finally, when sin had already come in, when the law had been broken, and when too the prophets sent by God had in vain recalled the children of Israel to their duty and claimed fruit for God from His vine,—the promised Messiah came with proofs of His mission so evident that human intelligence could, and in fact did, recognise them (John 2:23; ch. 3:2). God spoke in the Person of the Son (Heb. 1), the great promised Prophet. But at the same time the Father was revealed in the Son, and man would not have God. The Son of God was delivering man from all the outward evils sin had brought into the world, and from Satan’s power in this respect; but this manifestation of God in goodness did but bring out the hatred of man’s heart against Him; the Jews also lost all right to the promises, and man rejected God manifested in goodness here below. The history of responsible man was closed; for we are not here speaking of grace, except so far as God’s presence in grace tested man’s responsibility: not only had sin come in, and the law been broken, but men could not endure God’s presence when He was in their midst in goodness, not imputing to them their sins. All relation of man with God was impossible on the ground of what man is in himself, notwithstanding the miracles accomplished by Jesus, which were all goodness,3 and not merely power; it was as He Himself said (John 15:22-25): “They have no cloke for their sin … they have both seen and hated both me and my Father” (the expression always used by John when he speaks of God acting in grace). Yea, and this is a solemn statement, man’s history morally is ended. But, blessed be God, it is in order to open the door of infinite grace to Him who reveals Himself as the God of grace in the Son (John 12:31-33). The cross of Christ said, Man will not have God, not even when come in grace (2 Cor. 5:17-19); but it said also, God is infinite in grace, not sparing His own Son, in order to reconcile man to Himself.4
I turn back now to trace the ways of God briefly, and historically, in connection with man’s responsibility. It is striking to observe in man’s history, that whatever good thing God set up, the first thing that man ever did was to ruin it. Man’s first act was an act of disobedience; he fell into sin, and broke all relation between himself and God; he was afraid of Him who had filled his cup with blessings. Noah, escaped from the deluge which had swallowed up a whole world except his own family, becomes drunken, and authority is dishonoured and lost in him. Whilst the law was being given, before Moses came down from the mount, Israel made for themselves a golden calf. Nadab and Abihu offer strange fire on the first day of their service, and Aaron is forbidden to enter into the most holy place in his robes of glory and beauty, and indeed in any robe at all, except on the great day of atonement (Lev. 16). In the same way Solomon, David’s son, falls into idolatry, and the kingdom becomes divided. The first head of the Gentiles, if we go on to speak of him on whom God conferred the ruling power, made a great image, and persecuted those who were faithful to Jehovah. Nor has the external or professing church escaped the common law of disobedience and ruin any more than the rest.
If we now consider God’s ways as to man in the interval of time between Adam and the Christ, we find first of all, man in a state of innocence placed in the enjoyment of earthly blessings, without trouble of any kind; evil having no existence. Responsibility was set forth in the prohibition to eat of a certain tree. This prohibition or law did not suppose evil: Adam might have eaten of the tree, as of any other tree, if it had not been forbidden; it was purely a matter of obedience. Man yielded to the temptation; he lost God, hiding himself from His face, before he was driven out; then he was judicially driven out of the garden where he could enjoy God’s presence, who in fact came to seek him there in the cool of the day: and he acquired a conscience; he learned, and that in spite of himself, not by an imposed law, but inwardly, to make the distinction between good and evil. No doubt, conscience may be dreadfully hardened or misguided, but still it is there, in man; when a man does what is wrong, his conscience condemns him. God’s law is the rule of the conscience, but it is not itself the conscience which makes use of this rule. But from that time forth man was fallen; he had disobeyed, and renounced his allegiance to God, dreading Him, hiding from Him if that had been possible; and then was driven out of the garden, deprived of all those blessings through which he had enjoyed God’s goodness and was able to own Him and even to enjoy His presence, for God came to walk in the garden. Self-will and lust had entered into his nature, guilt and the dread of God into his position; and then, too, he was judicially driven out from a place which was no longer suited to his condition, and, morally, out of God’s own presence. What a horrible thing, if he had been able to eat of the tree of life, and fill the world with immortal sinners, having no more fear of death than of God! God allowed it not.
But there are some very interesting circumstances to note in connection with the judgment under which man had fallen. We have seen that Adam fled from the presence of God. The judgment pronounced upon him, upon Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:14-19) is an earthly judgment, not a judgment of the soul. Adam, and Eve also, are placed in a state of misery, and under the yoke of suffering and death. Before being driven out, Adam, by faith, as it seems, recognises life in the place wherein death had entered (Gen. 3:20); but there is more; there is the promise made to the woman, of the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head: the Christ, seed of the woman by whom evil entered into the world, was to destroy all the power of the Enemy. Then as sin had destroyed innocence, and given, through the shame of nakedness, a conscious sense of its loss, God Himself, by causing death to intervene, clothed Adam and his wife, and covered their nakedness (Gen. 3:21). Before this, there was unconsciousness of evil; now evil is known, but is covered by God’s own act. Man had sought to hide his sin from himself; but when he hears God’s voice, his fig-leaves are nothing worth; they are of no avail to an awakened conscience in the presence of God: “I hid myself,” he said, “for I was naked.” So also before driving him out, God did not restore his innocence, which indeed was impossible; He did better: He clothed Adam and his wife, so that He might see His own work, that is, what was suited to Him in the state in which they were, accomplished by Him in His grace, besides the crushing of him who had led them into evil. Still man was driven out of the garden, where he had enjoyed all God’s blessings without faith, to till the ground, to die, and until death to be separated from the God who before had walked in the cool of the day in the garden where he had dwelt. Man, thenceforth, knew God only by faith, if faith was in his heart—a new, all-important principle: he had lost God, had acquired a conscience, and, if he could, must live in painful toil to gain a temporal subsistence; he must find God, if he could; but he was from thenceforth outside the precincts which God frequented, and where His abundant blessings were dispensed without suffering or labour. Man had fled from God’s presence, and God had driven him out. Adam was no longer in the relation in which God had formed him to be with Himself, either as to the state of his soul, or judicially: he was in sin. I repeat, man had fled from the presence of God, and God had driven him from the position in which He had placed him when He created him; he was estranged from God with a bad conscience, knowing God just enough to be afraid of Him, having learned however that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, and being clothed by the grace and the work of God in a garment that bore witness to death, but which, as coming from God, covered, and that perfectly, the nakedness, the consciousness of which was the expression of man’s fall and of his state of sin. Man was now outside—could he enter, anywhere, into God’s presence to adore Him, to be morally with Him whom he had forsaken?
This fresh question now arises in Adam’s history.
Abel offered a sacrifice, which cost him nothing, so to speak; but he offered it by faith, owning that he was a sinner, outside the garden, at a distance from God, and that death had come in; but recognising in God the grace that had covered his parents’ nakedness, and drawing nigh to Him by a propitiatory sacrifice, which alone could take away sin, and through which alone a sinner could draw nigh to God in virtue of the death of another. God’s character in love and righteousness, and on the other hand, the state of Abel, were recognised in his offering: he offered it by faith, and God accepted it, as He accepted Abel himself with it, bearing witness to his gifts (Heb. 11:4). Abel was accepted of God according to the value of his gifts, that is, of Christ. God Himself covered Adam’s nakedness; Abel comes acknowledging his position, and the expiatory sacrifice by which alone he could enter into God’s presence. Cain, on the contrary, presents himself with the fruit of his hard labour. Man, since he was out of God’s presence, must draw near to Him to worship Him: all who are not openly apostates, not only from Christ but from God, acknowledge this. Cain acknowledges it, but how? He thinks he can come just as he is. And why not? As to sin, he thinks not of it. The fact that God had driven man out of paradise made no change in his thoughts; he presents himself as though nothing had happened; and, morally blind and insensible, he offers the fruit of his own work, it is true, but which was in itself the sign of the curse that was then lying upon the earth. He neither recognised what he was himself, nor what God was; neither sin, nor the curse that was lying on his work, as the fruit of sin. Once outside paradise, man had to approach God; and God Himself tells us for all ages, in this treasury of great principles laid up in Genesis, how this can be done. All these histories contain the groundwork of our relations with God, while shewing at the same time the state of man.
Sin becomes complete: we have already had sin against God; sin against a brother follows. Cain was irritated because God had refused him, and murder comes in: Cain kills his brother. God puts the question to him, not now saying as before to Adam: “Where art thou?” for Adam ought to have been in the presence of his God full of joy, and “Where art thou?” involved his actual position; but God says: “What hast thou done?” First of all, however, God addresses Cain on the subject of his relations with Himself. “If thou doest well,” He said, “shalt thou not be accepted?” and: “unto thee shall be his desire,5 and thou shalt rule over him” — “if thou doest not well, sin, or a sacrifice for sin (the Hebrew word has both meanings) is ready to hand” (literally, “is lying at the door”)—that is, there is a remedy. It is parenthetical, but these are the general principles of our relations with God. If a man does what is good, he is accepted of God, and if he does what is evil, there is a sacrifice for sin which the grace of God has set at the door. Notice here that Abel’s sacrifice was not a sacrifice for sin: neither Cain nor Abel came before God with the conscience oppressed by a known transgression. It is the state of each of them that is in view, the state of man before God: the one, the man who owns himself driven out from God’s presence, and who draws nigh to God according to grace; the other, the natural man, insensible to sin. In God’s answer to Cain, the subject is positive transgression, and this confirms the idea that in the passage (v. 7) a sacrifice for sin is meant, and not sin itself. But Cain, as I said, becomes guilty of sin against his brother; he fills up the measure of sin in its second character, which for Adam was impossible. God pronounces sentence upon Cain, who, cursed in his labour, fugitive and vagabond, abandoned himself to despair; then, leaving altogether the presence of God, who spoke with him, he proceeds to establish himself in the land where God had made him a vagabond (“Nod”) and the world begins. Cain builds a city, and calls it after his son; his children grow rich, they invent working in metals, and the refinements of the arts are introduced; they make themselves as happy as they can without God. I have no doubt, that besides the general truth, we have in Cain a type of the Jews as having slain the Lord: they carry their mark on their forehead. Lamech follows the bent of his own will, and takes two wives, but he is, I think, a type of Israel in the last days; Seth is the man after God’s counsels—Christ. The two families are established upon the earth; but already the hatred of the one against the other shews itself in Cain and Abel. (Compare 1 John 3:11, 12.) In the meantime we have God’s testimony: Enoch, who announces the coming of the Christ in judgment, and Noah, who passes through the judgment of the earth, and, as it were, comes to life again for a new world.
I have enlarged somewhat on this part of the history, because it gives us the state of fallen man, and the principles according to which he is in relation with God, without religious institutions, though not without testimony on God’s part. Eternal life is also shewn figuratively in Enoch, as in Abel the sacrifice by which fallen man can approach God, and in Adam and Eve (in the state of judgment in which man is), sovereign grace, which clothed them before driving them out; then, in Noah, the end of the age is announced, and the judgment is gone through. We find all this in its main principles in grace, recalled in Hebrews 11:1-7. But fallen man grew worse and worse; Noah alone remained, whom God saved when He destroyed the world.
We should note carefully as to the facts thus far recorded, that although far deeper principles, eternal in their nature and their effect, are contained in them, the history of this epoch of judgment upon Adam and of the judgment of the world, is a history of this world, and that the judgments are governmental, and belong to the course of things here below.
A new world begins with Noah. It begins with sacrifice; and here “burnt-offerings” are expressly named; they were acceptable to God. God would no more curse the earth, nor again smite every living soul, but the seasons should follow in their course, according to God’s established order, as long as the earth lasted. But man is no longer, as he was before in paradise, the authority that in sovereign right gave names to the animals in peace: the fear of man was to keep them in awe; man might eat them, but blood, the sign of life, he was not to touch. Then magisterial authority was established to restrain the violence that had broken loose. He that should take man’s life must lose his own: God would require blood at the hands of him who shed it; and man was invested with the authority necessary to enforce this law. And God gave the bow in the cloud as a sign of His covenant with the whole creation, in witness that there should no more be a deluge.
It is under this order of government that we live now on the earth. But Noah, in the enjoyment of the blessing granted to him, failed to maintain his position, became drunken, and was dishonoured. The world is divided into three parts: one in relationship with God; another, a cursed race, named in view of Israel’s history; thirdly, the mass of the Gentiles. Man seeks to become great upon the earth, and to centralise the power of the race, yet one; but God confounds their purposes with their language: then imperial power is set up on the earth in Nimrod. Babel and the land of Shinar begin to be conspicuous: this is our world.
Another important element now stands out in the history: the introduction of idolatry. Not only does Satan, as tempter, make man wicked, but he makes himself into a god for man, in order to help him to satisfy his passions. Having lost God, with whom, nevertheless, he had been in relation, and had made a fresh beginning in Noah, man made a god of everything in which the power of nature shewed itself, making of it a plaything for his imagination, and using it to satisfy his lusts. It was all he had. Even that part of the race that was in relationship with Jehovah (Gen. 9:26) is specially noticed as having fallen to that depth (Joshua 24:2). Terrible fall! Although man could not free himself from the consciousness that there was a God, a Being who was above him, and though he feared Him, he created for himself a multitude of inferior gods, in whose presence he would seek to drive away this dread, and obtain an answer to his desires, hiding that which always, in reality, continued to be an “unknown God.” Everything took the form of’ God’ in man’s eyes; the stars, his ancestors, the sons of Noah, and members of the human race still more ancient and less known, the power of nature, all that was not man but acted and operated without him—the reproduction of nature after its death, the generation of living creatures. The true God he had not; yet needed a God, and in a state of dependence and wretchedness, he made gods for himself according to his passions and imagination, and Satan took advantage of it. Poor mankind without God! Then God interposed sovereignly, reducing also, as we may note in passing, the length of man’s life by half after the flood, and by as much again hi Peleg’s time, when the earth was methodically divided.
But, as I have just said, the universal influence of idolatry led to an intervention on God’s part which stamped its character on His most important ways: He called Abraham, and caused him to come out from the surrounding corruption, in order to have him as the stock of a people that should belong to Him. In him, the father of the faithful, are shewn forth three or even four great principles: God’s sovereign will, otherwise called election, then God’s call, the promises, and continual worship by a man who was a stranger on the earth. This last circumstance, the possession of the promises with the non-possession of the things promised, drew out the affections and hope to that which was outside this world, though still indeed in a vague way; but other revelations were added. These principles have characterised the people of God from that day forth.
This, then, is the sum of these new ways of God: the world having given itself up to idolatry, God called out a man to belong to Him, outside the world, making him the depositary of His promises. There had been faithful men before, but not the stock of a race (as Adam was of the fallen race); but Abraham is the head of a race, for even we ourselves, as being Christ’s, are the seed of Abraham.
Nothing can be more instructive than the life of Abraham; but here we can only notice that which characterises the ways of God. Abraham declared that he was a pilgrim and a stranger; he erected an altar to God when he came into the land which God had given him, but in which he possessed no place whereon to set his foot; he had nothing but his tent and his altar. He pitched his tent, and built his altar, wherever he dwelt. He failed, and without consulting God, went down into Egypt. God preserved him, but Abraham had no altar from the time of his leaving the land of Canaan, until his return to it. A numerous posterity (Israel) to whom the land was to be given in possession, was promised to him; besides that, all the nations of the earth were to be blessed in him. After the son, in whom were the promises, had been offered to God, and he had received him again as risen, the promise of blessing to the Gentiles was confirmed to the seed—that is, to Christ. (Compare Gal. 3:16.) The promises are without condition, that is, they belong to God’s determinate purpose. Israel will be blessed through them in the last days; Christians, not to speak of other revelations and things fulfilled that are of infinite importance, enjoy them already. Sarah desired “the seed,” according to the flesh, before the time. But all had to be on the ground of promise: it is grace, faith and hope; for at that time nothing was fulfilled (and this still remains true as to the glory, except in regard to the Person of the Christ), only God was the God of Abraham, as also of Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. In Isaac, we have the type of the relations of Christ to the church; in Jacob, we descend into the sphere of the earthly people.
Afterwards, when Jacob had come into Egypt, the Israelites were subjected to the yoke of slavery, to the hard bondage of the Egyptians, as we are to sin in the flesh. This introduces another deeply important principle, that of redemption, and in connection with it yet another, the existence of a people of God upon earth, in the midst of whom God dwelt (Ex. 3:7, 8; ch. 6:1-8; ch. 29:45, 46). It is sovereign grace that considers the affliction of the people, and hears their cry; but the Israelites were in sin as well as the Egyptians: how could God deliver them? He found a ransom; the blood of the Paschal lamb, figure of Christ, was sprinkled in faith on the lintel and two sideposts of the door, and God, who was smiting in judgment, “passed over” the people sheltered by the blood. Israel ate the lamb that had been sacrificed, and had secured them from judgment; they ate it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread—with the bitterness of humiliation and truth in the heart, their loins girded, their staff in their hands, their sandals on their feet; they left Egypt in haste. Then follows the deliverance of the people when they were come to the sea: “Stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah.” Egypt’s power falls under executed judgment; Israel is out of Egypt, delivered and brought to God: redemption is complete, and the people shall no more see the Egyptians for ever (Ex. 14 and 15).
There was also a life that God cherished: Israel had to drink of the bitter waters of death (Marah), which Christ underwent in its reality for us. They were fed with the manna (Christ), were made to drink of the water from the rock (the Spirit of God), and were sustained from on high in conflict. But all is grace; God acts in grace and is glorified where man fails; man too is with God, for redemption brings us to God (Ex. 19:4); only the journey under grace, in order to attain this, is added in its great principles. The Sabbath is established: the redeemed people had their part in God’s rest; this is connected with the manna, Christ, as is conflict with the water from the rock.
Some verses of chapter 15 of this Book of Exodus here claim our attention. We find on the one hand: “Thou by thy mercy hast led forth the people that thou hast redeemed; thou hast guided them by thy strength unto the abode of thy holiness” (v. 13); but on the other hand, we read in verse 17: “Thou wilt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, the place that thou, Jehovah, hast made thy dwelling…” That is, they are brought to God Himself; their redemption is absolute and complete; but they were also to be introduced into the promised inheritance. The reader will notice, that it is no question of the wilderness, either in Exodus 3 or Exodus 6, or here, Exodus 15:1-21: the work of redemption being perfect, the wilderness is not necessary: the thief was fit to be with Christ in paradise, and so are we (Col. 1:12). The wilderness forms no part of God’s counsels, which, so far as we are concerned, refer to redemption, and the inheritance; but it does form part of God’s ways. See Deuteronomy 8:2, 3, etc.; God proves us, that we may know ourselves, and know Him. Those who make a profession are put to the test on the ground of an accomplished redemption: if they have not life, they fall on the way, whilst true believers persevere to the end. Then again, the state of the people is tested, and they are chastened (Deut. 8:5, 15, 16). In this position we are, in principle, under the law; it is what we are before God in respect of His government; but it is under the rod of the priesthood we are led. (The death of Aaron ends this part of the type; and the “red heifer” is a special provision for the defilements which are contracted in the wilderness.) It is otherwise when justification is the subject: then, at the end of the wilderness journey—our life of probation here below—it is said: “According to this time (that is, at the end of the wilderness) it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought?” All through the wilderness, the question was, What had Israel done?
As the Red Sea, in type, was the death of Christ for us, so the Jordan represents our death with Him; then comes our warfare, as God’s host, with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. But before this, there is Gilgal, the application of our death with Christ to our state of soul, in practical detail. The camp was always at Gilgal: the remembrance, by faith, of our identification with Christ in death (in the Jordan), is at Gilgal; then, the manna, the provision of a Christ come down here below, for the wilderness, is replaced by the old corn of the land, a heavenly Christ; and the Captain of Jehovah’s host comes forward.
Success in warfare, and blessing in the wilderness, depended upon the state of those who were in close connection with God Himself: He blessed them, but He ruled in the midst of His people. These two things, the wilderness and warfare— the warfare waged by Israel as Jehovah’s host—are found not indeed at the same moment, but during the same course of human life. But salvation, that is, redemption, is at the Red Sea; deliverance, as a thing experienced, is at the Jordan. The rod smote the sea; and the sea was no more, unless indeed as a safeguard for the people: the ark remained in the Jordan until all had passed over. It is well to notice that conditions and “ifs” do not refer to salvation, but to the wilderness journey; then, for those who have faith and life, there is, together with the “if” the promise of being kept until the end, so that there is no uncertainty for faith; but here it is a matter of relations with a living God known experimentally, and not an accomplished work.
As to Israel historically, they had accepted the promises at Sinai, on condition of their own obedience. That is the first covenant established by means of a Mediator, which supposes two parties; the enjoyment of the effect of the promise, depending as it did upon the faithfulness of man quite as much as upon the fidelity of God, was not more sure than the weaker of the two parties; and in fact the golden calf had been made even before Moses came down from the mountain. The new covenant will be established with Israel and Judah as the old one was. It will be when the Lord shall return and forgive their sins, not remembering them any more, and accomplishing His work in writing His law in their hearts, and not upon tables of stone. But the fact is of all importance that the people, at Sinai, consented to receive blessing on the condition of precedent obedience: this changed and aggravated the character of the sin, inasmuch as not only were the things themselves evil, but they amounted to a breach of the law, which formally connected God’s authority with the obligation of the relationships which it forbade to violate. The relationships and obligations existed already, but the law made the breach of the latter a positive transgression against God’s express will: under it, not only was human righteousness at stake, but also God’s authority. The last commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” etc., as we have said, did not deal with actual sin, even in the flesh, but with its first motions, and, for a soul born of God, led to the discovery of the root of sin in the flesh. But if all were fulfilled, it was never anything more than human righteousness.
Another great truth already noticed now found its realisation: God dwells on earth in the midst of His people. God had set up His throne in the midst of Israel: two things were in connection with it—first, the direct government of God, known by faith as the God of all the earth, and next, it was there that God was approached. God did not reveal Himself, He was hidden behind the veil; but there the sacrifices were presented: all the relations of religion (or at least of worship) of the people with God were carried into effect and centred there. There God’s dwelling was purified yearly; there Israel’s sins were blotted out by sacrifices that were figures of the sacrifice of Christ. At the same time the tabernacle was the expression of heavenly things j only the veil which closed the entrance into the most holy place was not yet rent, and man could not enter the most holy place, save only the high priest once a year. Such was the state of the people. They had accepted the law, as the condition, from that time forth, of the fulfilment of the promises; God’s presence was in the midst of the people, but inaccessible, behind the veil, and God’s government was carried on in the midst of the people, and for their good. But the tabernacle and all its ordinances were only a shadow, and not the “very image” of the things: and this is the reason why we have more of contrast than of comparison in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Let us notice, in passing, God’s grace and condescension in His ways with His people. Was Israel in bondage? God came as Redeemer. Must the people wander as pilgrims in the wilderness? God also dwelt in a tent in their midst. Must they wage war in Canaan? God appeared with a drawn sword, as Captain of Jehovah’s host. Were they established in peace in Canaan? God had a dwelling built for Him like to the palaces of the kings.
The journey through the wilderness accomplished, a few words require to be said on Deuteronomy, which is a book by itself. This will give me the opportunity of noticing the character of the entire Pentateuch; but my remarks shall be short.
Genesis lays the foundation and all the great principles of the relations of man with God,’ there we find creation, Satan, the fall, sacrifice, the separation of the saints from the world, the judgment of the world, government to put a check upon evil, the call of God when idolatry set in, the promises, the seed of God; those that were His, pilgrims and strangers, but with a regular worship—otherwise no religious institutions; then the resurrection, in Isaac; the Jews, the earthly people, in Jacob. In Exodus we have redemption, the law, the tabernacle, a people of God, the presence of God on His throne on earth, the old covenant, the priesthood. In Leviticus, the detail of the sacrifices, ceremonial purity, and particularly that which concerns leprosy, the great day of atonement, the feasts, the Sabbatical year, and the jubilee, when every one returned into his inheritance; and prophetical denunciations in case of disobedience. In Numbers, the numbering of the people, the separation of the Levites, the law of jealousy, Nazariteship, the history of the journey through the wilderness under the leading of the cloud and under the priesthood, and, together with the history of the conduct of the children of Israel during this journey—the red heifer; the people, except two men and the little children, perish in the wilderness: the judgment of God is pronounced, according to His sovereign grace, by Balaam. We find also in this book the details of the sacrifices for feast days and especially for the feast of tabernacles, vows, the taking possession of the land on the eastern side of Jordan, the brazen serpent, the Levites’ inheritance, and the cities of refuge. Though there be history in all these books, the history itself, not only the rites and ceremonies, is typical of spiritual things: “All these things happened to them as types,” says Paul, “and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come,” 1 Cor. 10:1-13. We have no proof that, with the exception of Leviticus 8 and 9, one single sacrifice was offered in the wilderness, unless to Moloch and Remphan. The Book of Deuteronomy occupies a place by itself: it supposes that the people are in the land; it reminds them of their disobedience, and insists upon obedience: its object is to keep the people in close connection with Jehovah. A place was to be appointed in the land, where the ark and worship should be set up, where all the feasts were to be celebrated, and all offerings and tithes brought, except that which was given in the third year, to the Levite, in the place where he dwelt;6 the priests are scarcely mentioned; it is the people in direct relationship with Jehovah: blessing would rest upon obedience, and judgment upon disobedience. The book concludes with a prophetical song, announcing the apostasy of the people and the judgment of God, a judgment which would fall upon the nations that should oppress Israel. In Exodus and Leviticus, the point is approach to God; here, in Deuteronomy, the enjoyment of Jehovah’s blessings (and that, too, in a spirit of grace toward those who should be in need), both as directly under the hand of Jehovah, and in faithfully keeping the law given by Him. Several ordinances, relating to feasts and to the cities of refuge, are repeated; but the distinguishing character of the Book is a people without king or prophet (although the priests are named, they hardly ever appear) put in possession of the land to serve Jehovah, who had given it to them. God, however, raised up, when necessary, at the time to which this book refers, extraordinary men to re-establish the affairs of the people, when they were fallen into decline through their sins; but it was, essentially, Jehovah and the people.
The taking possession of the land of Canaan is related in the Book of Joshua. The people’s responsibility is clearly brought out, but, on the whole, God was with them, and no enemy could stand in war against them. God was with Joshua as long as he lived, and this continued during the life of those who had been eye-witnesses of the marvellous works of Jehovah.
But immediately afterwards (in Judges), the people fell into idolatry. Having failed to exterminate the nations upon whom God was executing judgment by their means, the children of Israel learned their wicked and idolatrous ways, fell under the judgment of God, and were given over into the hand of divers tyrants and persecutors. God raised up a judge from time to time, and there was relief and blessing during his life; but after his death, the people fell again into the same disobedience, and were afresh given over to their enemies.
At length in time, the ark was taken, and the relations of Israel with God on the ground of their own responsibility, were at an end. God, however, continues His ways, and the taking of the ark becomes the occasion of making them evident: Christ is the centre of them; He is Prophet, Priest, and King. The high priest was the point of contact between the people, as responsible, and God; the ark, the place where this contact was maintained: but the ark was taken. There could henceforth be no more day of atonement, no more throne of God in the midst of the people, no more sprinkling of blood according to the order of the house of God! Where was He who sat between the cherubim? He failed not to smite the false god with His mighty power, only He did it not in Israel, but in the Philistines’ land. All was over for Israel on the ground of their responsibility; but God’s sovereignty and His supreme goodness could not be set aside, nor limited. God intervenes by a prophet, and raises up Samuel, as He had in bygone days brought the people up from Egypt, before the ark was with them. The prophet sent by God in His sovereignty, is the link between the people and God. God Himself was the King in Israel; but the people wished to be like the Gentiles, and to walk by sight, and not by faith, and they set up a human king, Saul. He was in general successful; but being abandoned of God through his disobedience (which was that of Israel), he fell by the hand of the enemies for whose destruction he had been raised up. But God, in view of Christ, would have a king, and David was this king. The priest, the prophet, and the king reveal God’s thought as to the Anointed. But the son of David, blessed as he was, failed, as man has ever done, and the kingdom was divided.
Some remarks should be made as to royalty itself. Royalty is properly effective power in action, and, in the kingdom of God, it is God’s power, the king who reigns for God in Israel, the intervention of God in power. We have had the walk of responsible man under the priesthood, and side by side with that, the prophet who acted on God’s behalf, by the word; this in itself was grace: but now the power is joined to grace to accomplish God’s designs. God knew well how to deliver and avenge Himself of false gods, without man; but He was minded to reign in Man: this is the third character of Christ. As Prince of peace, it is indeed Solomon who is the type of the Lord; but the exercise of His power is shewn characteristically in David as a sufferer and deliverer: this will be the means of the re-establishment of Israel, in the last days. In Psalm 72 we have the king, and the king’s son. It is David who brings back the ark from Kirjath-Jearim, but he does not place it again in the tabernacle where the outward form of worship existed, but upon Mount Zion, which God had chosen to be the seat of royalty. (See Psa. 132; 2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 16:34.) Then, for the first time (for here it was grace, and grace exercised in power), David institutes the singing of the hymn: “For his mercy endureth for, ever.” This hymn was again sung under Nehemiah, a striking occasion for it, and we hear it already, as prepared for the last days, in Psalms 106, 107, 108, 136. Although royalty was historically placed on the footing of responsibility, the great and unfailing principle of grace acting in power was now established—the sure goodness of God toward Israel, in the Person of the Christ: “For his mercy endureth for ever.” An unfailing posterity and house were promised to David. (2 Sam. 7:12-16; 1 Chron. 17:11-14.) The Christ, the true Son of David, had a place clearly defined and determined by God, although for the time being, the house of David was set under responsibility, and failed forthwith (2 Sam. 23:5; compare Heb. 12:18-22). The temple built upon Mount Moriah, although surely the habitation of God, had not this promise of enduring for ever.
Joshua, beginning with death at Gilgal, gives us the spiritual power of Christ, the Chief and Leader of His people. The Book of Judges shews to us the people’s fall, but the intervention of God in grace; then comes Samuel, the last of the Judges, and then Royalty.
Israel, that is the ten tribes, soon abandoned Jehovah, though priding themselves in His name; Judah’s decline was less rapid. This is the history related to us in the Kings and Chronicles, the last being written, or at any rate finished, after the return from Babylon. The Book of Kings is (after the division of the kingdom) especially the history of Israel, and that of the intervention of Jehovah by means of Elijah and Elisha; but the history of Judah is continued, up to the captivity. The Book of Chronicles is the history of the family of David.7 Israel severed themselves from the temple, and in fact from Jehovah, by setting up the worship of the golden calves. Responsibility is attached to the kingly functions, but Israel never departed from their false position. But whether for Israel or for Judah, this period is characterised by prophets sent of God. God thought of the faithful in Israel, when the prophet could find none, a touching testimony of His grace! Great as was the prophet, who did not even pass through death, Elijah found but himself alone where God knew seven thousand. But the prophets in Israel, and those that bore testimony in Judah, had very distinct characters. A large portion of the Book of Kings relates to us the history of Elijah and Elisha: their testimony referred to Jehovah’s rights in the midst of an apostate people, and served to maintain, in the heart of the faithful hidden in the midst of this people, faith in Him whom the people had abandoned. There was no testimony as to the coming Messiah,8 nor as to God’s ways in general; but there were miracles that we do not find (except a sign given to Hezekiah) in the prophets of Judah, because in Judah, the profession of the worship of Jehovah still existed. Elijah and Elisha kept up in their persons the testimony of Jehovah in the midst of an apostate people, and, as did Moses in setting it up, performed miracles to maintain this testimony personally. The prophets in Judah insisted upon faithfulness in the midst of a people that professed to serve the true God and to possess His temple, and encouraged personal faith, not by miracles which declared that Jehovah was mighty, but by promise, which belonged to the people according to the love of God and His unfailing faithfulness.
Israel was lost amongst the nations, led captive by the Assyrians, but not for ever (the Messiah, when He comes, will find the ten tribes again), whilst the public ways of God were pursued in the history of Judah. The ministry of the prophets continued until, as Jeremiah says, there was no remedy, that is, up to the Babylonian captivity, and even after it. But the Babylonian captivity was of immense import, as regards the earth: the throne of God ceased to be upon earth, there was no longer any throne of God upon it: the times of the Gentiles, of the power of the Beasts in Daniel, had begun, and will continue until the last Beast be destroyed by the power of the Lord Jesus, at His coming. Only the Christ had to be presented to them as King: this is the history of the gospel as far as concerned the Jews, thenceforth vagabonds upon the earth, although not lost, as was Israel, amongst the Gentiles, but having God’s mark upon them to preserve them for the days of blessing that await them when they shall repent—a remnant at the least—and shall look upon Him whom they pierced. The expressions: “God of the heavens,” and “God of the whole earth,” are never confounded in prophecy. The history of Israel under the old covenant, under which blessing depended upon man’s obedience, was at an end; but promise still remained,—the promise, that is, of the Messiah and of the new covenant. Then God, in His goodness, put into the heart of Cyrus, who had not given himself up to the gross idolatry of Babylon, and hated idols, to cause at least a remnant of Israel to return to the land of promise, and further, to help to re-establish the temple of the true God, and His worship. Thither the promised Messiah came in His time, but for purposes yet far more glorious, putting man, nevertheless, to a last test. Come in humiliation in order to be near to man, shewing at the same time by His words and His works who He was, that He was over all, but come in goodness and grace towards man, accessible to all, abolishing all the effects of sin, He encountered sin itself manifested in its true character in man, in the rejection of God thus present.
Man, then, was tried in his innocence by the Enemy, and fell; he was tried without law, and sin reigned; under the law, and he transgressed it; afterwards, when man had become a sinner and transgressor, God came in goodness, not imputing his sins to him, and man would not have God. The history of responsible man was ended from that time forth; Israel also had lost all claim to the fulfilment of the promises, otherwise unconditional,—having rejected Him in whom this fulfilment was to be found.
It only remains for me to give some idea of the prophecies, in order to facilitate the understanding of these revelations of God; and then to pass rapidly the Hagiographa in review.
Of all the prophets, Isaiah takes in the most extended horizon. As long as Israel is owned of God, the Assyrian is the enemy. It will be thus in the last days, and whilst that which the prophets say of him encouraged the faith of their contemporaries, what they announced will not have its complete fulfilment until those days. A brief analysis of Isaiah will furnish us with the entire compass of prophecy, the other prophets giving us details that require but few words. The first four chapters form a preface which shews the moral ruin of Judah and Jerusalem and the judgments which should fall upon her, and her restoration, bringing in peace and turning to nought man and his glory, and revealing Christ the glory of the remnant. The judgment in chapter 5 is founded upon the people’s giving up what God had made them at the beginning; in chapter 6, it is based upon their incapacity to stand in the presence of God, who was about to come;—these are the grounds of the judgment of man, of Israel, and of the church: but there was to be a remnant in the midst of the blindness of the people. Then we find Immanuel, the Son of the Virgin, the sure foundation of the confidence of faith; and the Assyrian, the rod of God, but also (until the end of chap. 9:7) the effect of the presence of Immanuel, a stone of stumbling for the people, from whom God hides His face, but yet a Sanctuary, and finally the Restorer of the people in glory. Chapters 7, 8, 9:1-7 are a parenthesis to introduce Christ. Chapter 9:8 resumes the thread of the people’s history with its different phases, verses 8-12; 13-17; 18-21; ch. 10:1-4; then comes the Assyrian, through whom the chastisements are brought to an end. Chapters 11 and 12 depict the full blessing at the end: the Holy One of Israel is again in the midst of the people. This completes the review of the great elements of the prophecy. Chapters 13-27 announce the judgment of the Gentiles, of Babel where Israel was captive, the characteristic city of the times of the Gentiles and Israel’s captivity. The judgment of the Assyrian comes after that of Babylon, shewing that the last days are in question, for in history, Babel’s greatness and empire were founded upon the fall of the Assyrian. After Babylon come the other countries; only, in chapter 18, we have Israel brought back to their land, but despoiled by the Gentiles just at the moment when they seemed about to flourish. Jerusalem and its head undergo judgment; then the whole world is convulsed, and the Lord comes, whom the faithful were awaiting. The powers of evil, on high, are judged, and the kings of the earth, upon the earth (chap. 24:21). The veil which hindered the Gentiles from seeing shall be taken away, the reproach of the people shall be abolished, and the first resurrection will take place; the power of the Serpent among the peoples will be destroyed; Jehovah will care for Israel as a vineyard in which He finds His pleasure (chaps. 25-27). In chapters 28-33 a series of special prophecies portray the last assault of the Gentiles against Israel, in which the Edomite and Assyrian are conspicuous, but each of these prophcies ends with the full blessing of Israel, and the presence of the King (Christ). Then come four chapters containing the history of Sennacherib, which furnished the occasion for the prophecy, but in which Hezetriah healed—figure of Christ risen—and the deliverance from the attack of the Assyrian, prefigure the events of the last days. From chapter 40 to the end, we find the controversy of Jehovah with Israel, because the latter had forsaken Him for idols, and, with this, the judgment of Babel, the great vessel of this idolatry upon earth, which Cyrus (called by name) captured— in a word the judgment of idolatry; and then the rejection of the Christ. The first part reaches up to the end of chapter 48; then Christ is the subject from chapter 49 until the end of chapter 57: God will have righteousness. Then, after some reproaches addressed to Israel, we have their glory in the last days.
I have enlarged a little upon Isaiah, because the whole range of prophecy, at the time when Israel was owned, is contained in it, as well as the thoughts of God. Daniel, on the other hand, gives us the history of the “Beasts,” when the Jews are in captivity, and, consequently, outside God’s direct government in Israel. The other prophets take up details: Jeremiah, the ruin of Judah, the state of things within; Ezekiel, Israel already rejected.
Jeremiah insists upon the iniquity that had brought on the ruin, but in chapter 31 he announces grace and a new covenant with Judah and Israel, and in this chapter, also, and the two following, full blessing upon Judah and Israel; after which is the judgment upon the nations.
Ezekiel introduces Jehovah Himself, executing judgment upon Jerusalem, when, at the same time, He quits His throne which is there no longer; thus Judah and Israel are in the same position before God, and Ezekiel speaks of them both. In chapters 34-37, Israel is restored by God, and purified, Judah and Israel are joined together to be separated no more; Christ (David) is there, and the tabernacle of God is with them. In chapters 38 and 39, the northern power, Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, rises up to lay waste the land, making known by the judgment that Jehovah then executes upon him, the name of Jehovah, and that Israel had been in captivity on account of their iniquities. Then Ezekiel gives the plan of the new temple.
To Daniel, captive at Babylon, but keeping himself pure from all defilement, are confided all the events of the history of the four Gentile monarchies. The first six chapters of this prophet relate the histories of these empires as belonging to the world: Daniel is but an interpreter. The last six chapters shew us the same empires in their relations with captive Israel. As always, Israel’s deliverance and the judgment of their oppressors come at the end. Daniel shall have his part in this joy.
Hosea predicts the transporting of the ten tribes, and then he announces that by the captivity of Judah there would no longer be a recognised people of God upon earth, but that at the end they should set up for themselves one only Head (Christ): and the day of blessing should be great. Israel should remain a long time without the true God and without false gods, without sacrifice and without idols, but would own Jehovah and David (Christ) in the last days: their repentance is depicted in the last chapter.
Joel foretells, on the occasion of a famine, the destruction of the northern army, and then the gift of the Spirit to all flesh before the terrible day shall come.
Amos, after having threatened judgment that should be executed upon different nations of Canaan, declares that the patience of God will no longer bear with the iniquity of Israel, but he sets forth also (as do all the prophets) die return and blessing of Israel, adding that they shall never more be rooted out of their land.
Obadiah is a prophecy against Edom, whose jealousy of Jerusalem and implacable hatred are often spoken of; then he announces the day of Jehovah for the judgment of the nations, and the deliverance of Zion, as always.
Jonah has a special character; if Jehovah had chosen Israel to be a people set apart to preserve the knowledge of His name upon the earth, He is none the less the God of the Gentiles, and a God of goodness and mercy. When privileges put into the shade the knowledge of what God is in Himself, the possession of these privileges becomes a stern party spirit: this was clearly shewn in the Jews, It is remarkable that in Jonah the testimony of divine mercy is addressed to the great enemy of God’s people. We see also in this prophet, the ways of God when repentance is manifested; furthermore, in some respects Jonah is a well-known type of the Saviour. The subject of chapter 4 is in contrast with the special blessing upon the Jews at the end; God is likewise the God of the nations.
Micah resembles Isaiah in many points, but the development of God’s plans is much less complete in his book, while he appeals more to the conscience of the people; but the promises made to Abraham and to Jacob will be fulfilled.
In Nahum, God’s indignation is aroused against the pride of human power and dominion, and Nineveh (the Assyrian) is destroyed: the race will never be reinstated, and Judah is finally delivered.
Habakkuk is the expression of faith in Jehovah, in spite of everything, and of God’s ways in the history of the people. The prophet complains of the iniquity that surrounds him in Israel: God shews to him the Chaldeans, whom He is bringing to visit the land in judgment because of this iniquity; then the prophet’s affection for the people is awakened, and he complains of the Chaldeans; and God shews him that he must live by faith: He will punish these violent enemies, whose passions He had used as a rod to chasten Israel; but the man of faith must wait. The day of Jehovah shall come, and the earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea. The prophet recalls the former deliverance of Israel, and rejoices in Jehovah, although no blessing from Him be apparent.
Zephaniah announces a judgment upon the land, which will allow no iniquity to escape,—the day of Jehovah, a day of wrath, of trouble and of anguish, when the land shall be devoured by Jehovah’s wrath. The meek will have to seek Jehovah to be “sheltered” (chap. 2:3); first of all Israel, then the Gentiles shall be judged, the Assyrian being their head (for here Israel is owned); then comes that which concerns Jerusalem, as though God had said, She will repent; but she became corrupt, going from bad to worse. The prophet takes this opportunity to call the remnant to wait upon Jehovah who was about to gather all the nations to judge them in His anger. Then, everything would be changed: all the nations would call upon Jehovah out of a pure heart, and Israel should be brought back to Him in hearty repentance, iniquity would be found in them no longer, and they should be for a people of renown and glory amongst all the nations of the earth; a fitting conclusion to all God’s ways spoken of by the prophets.
The prophets that follow, prophesied after the return from Babylon, and have another character.
Haggai is full of interest, though simple and short. He would have the people to think of Jehovah and not of their worldly interests; he would have them to set to work again to build the House, whose progress the enemies had interrupted, and that they should do it, trusting in Jehovah, and without waiting for the leave of the king of Persia: the Jews did so, and in fact, when they acted by faith, Providence helped them by the king’s authorisation. But for faith, God undertook all for them, and He controls the hearts of kings. It is the order of faith acting according to God’s word, here given by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. At the same time this furnishes the prophet with the opportunity of announcing that God was going to shake the heavens and the earth, so that all human power, as well as the spiritual powers in the air, should be set aside. Then will be fulfilled that which the children cried by inspiration when Jesus entered Jerusalem: “Peace in heaven” —and the power of Christ, the Head of Israel, will be established, identified with that of Jehovah.
Zechariah takes up the re-establishment of Jerusalem at that time, but giving the history of the city until the first coming of the Christ, and even until the second. He speaks, indeed, of the destruction of the nations who laid Jerusalem waste, but of this only incidentally. Jerusalem is justified, then blessed by the administration of grace, according to perfect and divine order; the wicked are segregated, and find their place with Babylon; and Christ is brought in. There is a second prophecy beginning with chapter 7, and which, in chapter 11, introduces the rejection of Christ at His first coming; and Israel is given up into the hands of a wicked shepherd. Then Jerusalem will be the place where the nations shall be judged, and the spirit of repentance shall be poured upon the people because of the death of the Man who is Jehovah’s fellow. Jerusalem will be taken, but Jehovah shall come forth to judge her enemies, and everything in her shall be sanctified.
Malachi shews us the moral decay of the people after their return from Babylon; but there will be a remnant. John the Baptist’s mission is predicted, the day of Jehovah is coming, and the advent of Elijah is announced, the people are brought back to the law. Notice carefully that Christianity does not appear here, but the Christ and His rejection; the Shepherd (Zech. 13) is smitten and the sheep are scattered, then follows the judgment. It is easily perceived that, in these three prophecies uttered after the return from Babylon when one of the “Beasts” had already fallen, although the nations be necessarily alluded to (for it was their time—they possessed the world), the range of prophecy grows considerably narrower, and we find much more direct detail in relation to the Christ. The great actors amongst the nations are there, and there they find themselves judged; they are there awaiting the last judgments, to make way for Babylon and the Beasts, whose history we have in Daniel, all associated with the captivity of the Jews in that city, for this captivity characterised the position. Up to that time there had been the Assyrian, but the throne of God had been in the midst of the people at Jerusalem; now, though the captivity under the dominion of the Gentiles still subsists and is recognised, the horizon, I repeat, gets narrower, and the scene is more filled with Christ Himself, and details in connection with restored Jerusalem; then comes the great day of Jehovah.
It remains for me to say a few words on the Hagiographa.
Daniel is reckoned among the latter by the Jews. We have spoken of his book as a book of prophecy, although it has a distinct character, the throne of God having disappeared from off the earth, and the prophet being at Babylon; but still it partakes of the character of the other Hagiographa, which are moral discourses, histories of detail, when Israel was rejected— the expression of the Christ’s affection for Israel: we find God’s relations with man in them, and the providential care He takes of His people, when He had no relations with them as a people, and did not own them as such.
The Book of Job9 shows us man under trial (put to the test). Will he be able, as renewed by grace, as we should say with our actual knowledge—man just and upright in his ways—will he be able to possess in himself righteousness, and be able to maintain himself before God in the presence of the power of evil? Such is the question raised in this book. One sees in it also the ways of God for sounding hearts, and to give them the knowledge of their true state before Him. This subject is all the more instructive in that it is presented to us outside of all economy—of all special revelation from God’s side. Job is a pious man, as one descended from Noah could well have been, one who had not lost the knowledge of the true God at a time when sin was propagating itself afresh in the world and where idolatry was beginning to establish itself, albeit the Judge was ready to punish it.
One sees also in Job a heart, which, though in rebellion against God, depends on Him; a heart which turns towards God, whom he finds not: a heart which because it knows God, though insubject, claims for Him qualities which the cold reasonings of his friends know not how to attribute to Him; nevertheless he is complacent in his own integrity of which he makes a covering for himself in self-righteousness which hides God from him and which also hides Job from himself.
Elihu reproaches him with these things, at the same time explaining to him the ways of God. Finally God reveals Himself to Job and his heart is broken. Then God heals him, lavishing blessing upon him in peace.
This book also furnishes a picture of the ways of God towards the Jews as well as the Spirit’s teaching regarding the part Satan plays in the ways and government of God on the earth.
The Psalms exhibit this state of things more completely than any other book whatever. Two principles lay the foundation of the entire Book (Psa. 1, 2): the first, that there is in the midst of the wicked a God-fearing remnant; the second, that Jehovah and His Anointed meet with opposition from the people and the Gentiles. Then we have the counsels of God in the Anointed, Son of God, and King in Zion, and then Ruler over all the earth: if He is rejected, His people must suffer, take up their cross (Psalms 3-7). In Psalm 8 He is the Son of man set over all the works of God’s hand. With Psalm 9 the history in the midst of Israel begins. Some principles may here be useful, as a clue to facilitate the reading of the Book. It is well known that the Psalms are divided into five Books, as follows: Psalm 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150. The form of the Book in general lays down a basis of thought, then provides expressions for the experience of the remnant in the circumstances given as the basis. Thus Psalms 9 and 10 lay the basis; the Psalms following, until the end of Psalm 18, are the expression of the sentiments that are in connection with them: only the last three more directly present Christ. Psalm 18 is remarkable in that it connects all the history of Israel, from Egypt until the end, with the sufferings of Christ. Psalms 19, 20 and 21 are the testimonies of God; the Creation, the Law, and Christ, Psalm 21 introducing Christ in glory. Psalm 22 presents Him, not in connection with the Jews, but made sin before God. Prior to Psalm 25, we do not find confession of sins. It is more a question of the Christ personally in this first Book; the remnant, too, if at Jerusalem, but in presence of the power of the wicked. In the second Book the remnant is outside Jerusalem. In Psalm 45 the Messiah is introduced, and thenceforward the name of Jehovah. When we meet with the name of Jehovah, faith recognises the relationship. (Compare Psalms 14 and 53.) I may here remark that the first verse or verses of a Psalm habitually give the thesis, and the following verses describe the path by which this point is reached. In this second Book the afflictions of Christ are fully described, and then the desires of David for the establishment of his Son in His millennial kingdom. The third Book, whilst mentioning Judah and Zion, takes in the whole of Israel, and thus goes back and reviews the people’s history, following it up to the sure covenant made with Abraham and with his seed. The fourth Book, after recalling Moses, and how Jehovah had been the God of Israel in all times, and after speaking of the Messiah and of the Sabbath, introduces the reign of Jehovah, and describes its progress from above until He shall be seated between the cherubim and the nations called to worship before Him. We have there the principles of the reign of Christ, His rejection, His divinity, and the duration of His days as the risen Man, the blessing of the people and of the world by His presence: God remembers His promise to Abraham. Israel has been unfaithful, but God, in grace, remembers them. The fifth Book goes on to the end; it sets forth the principles and ways of Jehovah, the return of the people to their land (the Psalms of Degrees), Christ in the meantime having sat down at God’s right hand, Lord, as Son of David. The goodness of Jehovah endureth for ever, the law is written in the heart of Israel which had been astray. Then, after the Psalms of Degrees, and the judgment of Babylon, comes the great “Hallel” or Hallelujah, a series of hymns of praise. The only Psalms which describe, even prophetically, the kingdom itself are 72 and 145. The Book begins by a rejected Christ; then, introducing His return to set up the kingdom, it speaks of the ways of the people, and their return to their land. Note also that you never find the Father in the Psalms, nor the feelings that belong to adoption. Confidence, obedience, faith in the midst of difficulties, devotedness (as in Psalm 63), faith in the promises, fidelity, all these things we find, but never the relation of son with a father. Through not paying attention to this point, the character of the piety of many sincere souls has been lowered by the very reading of this precious Book.
The Preacher, or “Ecclesiastes,” inquires whether it be possible to find happiness under the sun. All is vanity in man’s efforts; but there is a law, the perfect rule of man’s conduct, and every work shall be weighed at the judgment of God. There is no positive relationship with God in this book; we find it in God the Creator, and man in the world such as it is—not Jehovah, still less the Father.
In the Proverbs it is otherwise; they present to us the wisdom of that authority which restrains man’s will, corruption, and violence, the satisfying of self which is man’s danger; then the counsels of God, in that the Wisdom of God (Christ), the Object of God’s good pleasure, finds its delight in the sons of men, and that before the world was (chap. 8). All here is either Jehovah or God who has made Himself known and acts by means of an authority confided to man, to parents, etc. Then God supplies us in this Book with that which teaches a man to avoid the snares laid in this poor world, without being obliged himself to learn all its iniquity.
In Ezra and Nehemiah we find the nationality of Israel doubly reinstated, religiously and politically. Ezra comes after Joshua and Zerubbabel. In the latter we see men who act by faith: in the midst of their enemies, they erect an altar to be a defence against them; they count upon God (Ezra 3:2). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the Jews on God’s behalf, and God answered their faith. Later on comes Ezra, a faithful man, devoted and confiding in God: instructed in the law, he brings order into their walk. Yet it seems to me that under the influence of the natural soil of the human heart, this order degenerated into Pharisaism. For the moment, faithfulness on their part demanded that they should keep themselves separate as the people of God, require a known Jewish genealogy, especially so in the case of the priests, and that they should send away the strange wives. Nehemiah restores the walls and the city: he is a faithful and devoted man, but one who likes to talk of his faithfulness; for the word presents these two things as they are.
The Book of Esther tells us in what manner God in His providence, whilst hiding Himself, takes care of Israel. It has often been remarked that God is not named in this book: this is just what is fitting, for the subject is God’s providence when God does not openly shew Himself.
The Song of Songs is, I believe, the renewal of the relations of the Son of David with the faithful remnant of Israel in the last days, when that remnant shall be for Him Hephzi-bah, “my delight is in her,” Isa. 62:4. We may remark that He always speaks to the Shulamite when He speaks of her; she speaks of Him as the object of her affections, but not to Him. The church’s affection is calmer than that which we find here, because the church already enjoys the love of Christ as a known thing, being in a well-established relationship, although the consequences of it be not all accomplished. Individually the believer can enter more fully into it.
There are two little portions of the Hagiographa that in our Bibles are detached from them; they are: The Lamentations of Jeremiah and Ruth. The touching story of this latter, which reveals the most primitive customs, and, at the same time, the most delicate and beautiful incidents of character, bearing unmistakably the stamp of reality, is important as retracing the genealogy of David, and consequently that of Christ, a Gentile woman being admitted into it. The Lamentations have that character of sorrow which is imparted by the feeling that God has smitten His people, overthrown His altar, and destroyed His house. For the time being, under the old covenant, it is all over with Jerusalem and the people of God. Jeremiah sees, as with the eye of God from within, and there is no longer any remedy! Now, it will be remembered that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah relate the return of a Jewish remnant, brought back by the mercy of God, in order that there might be a people to whom grace could present Him who had been promised.
The responsibility of man, as man, as being answerable for his own conduct, had been fully put to the test without law, and under the law; but the goodness of God from the time of the fall, before man had been driven out of the garden of Eden, had given the promise of a Saviour, who was to crush the serpent’s head. Except that which was necessary to replenish the new world, the flood made an end of the fallen race plunged in corruption and violence. In this new world all soon fell into idolatry. Then grace called Abraham, and the formal promises of the Seed were given to him. Four hundred and thirty years later, the race, separated for God, was put under the law, a perfect rule of what man ought to be, if we take into account the prohibition of lust. The prophets recalled the law to the people’s conscience, but at the same time they sustained the faith of those who remained true in the midst of general unfaithfulness, recalling, confirming, and developing the promise of the Seed, and of the coming of the great and terrible day of Jehovah. See, as an instance, the last words of Malachi’s prophecy (chap. 4). The promise of the Seed was repeated by the prophets constantly, and the appeal to conscience, until there was no longer any remedy. Yet God fulfilled the promise in sending the Christ, the seed of David. This was grace—faithfulness to His promise, without doubt, on God’s part, and in this sense righteousness in God (this is the force of 2 Peter 1:1), but it was not a question of man’s responsibility to keep a rule that had been imposed upon him, but of receiving the Christ. There was more: Christ was the Word made flesh. God Himself was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their sins to them. But He came to His own, and His own received Him not; the world would not have Him, it knew Him not; His own did not receive Him; yet the Father was manifested in the Son, in His words and in His works, and the world knew Him not: “They have both seen and hated,” said the Saviour, “both me and my Father.” Thus the Jews lost all right to the promises in rejecting Him in whom they were being fulfilled. But what is much more, not only was man disobedient, he was that already, but whilst thus disobedient he shewed his hatred against God manifested in grace. On the side of man’s responsibility, all relationship with God was impossible. The cross was the public manifestation of this rejection, of this enmity against God; but it was at the same time the manifestation of the love of God for man such as he was. But more than this, it was the accomplishment of a perfect work of propitiation— a sacrifice to take away sin, an entirely new basis of relationship between man and God, depending, not upon man’s responsibility—on this ground man was lost—but on the infinite grace of God that spared not His own Son, who, by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, so that grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. The promises will be fulfilled; and the believer possess eternal life, and will possess it in glory, made like unto the Son of God, re-entered as man into the glory, in order that the heart of God may be satisfied in love, and His holy righteousness manifested and honoured, and that His Son who left the glory for us and humbled Himself in obedience unto death, may be fully glorified, according to the glory that is His due. Thus we have entered upon the ground of the gospel.
The New Testament, as we readily perceive, has a very different character from the Old, in that, if the latter gives us the revelation of the thoughts which God communicated to those who were the instruments of this revelation, and makes us adore the wisdom that is there developed, yet God Himself in the Old Testament remains always hidden behind the veil. In the New Testament God manifests Himself; there we find Himself, gentle, meek, human: in the Gospels, God upon earth,—and then God enlightening by a divine light in the subsequent communications of the Spirit. Formerly God had made promises, as He had executed judgments; He had governed a people upon earth, and had acted towards the nations in view of this people; He had given them His law, and had bestowed on them, through the medium of the prophets, a growing light which announced as nearer and nearer the coming of Him who should tell them all things from God. But the presence of God Himself as Man in the midst of men had the effect of changing everything, where man ought to have received Him in the Person of the Christ, as the crown of blessing and glory—Him, whose presence was to banish all evil, and develop and bring to perfection every element of good, furnishing at the same time an object and a centre for all the affections rendered perfectly happy by the enjoyment of this Object. Or else, in rejecting this Christ, our poor nature must manifest itself as it is, enmity against God, and must prove the necessity for a completely new order of things, in which the happiness of man and the glory of God should be based upon a new creation. We know what happened. He who was the image of the invisible God, had to say, after the exercise of a perfect patience: “Righteous Father, the world hath not known thee “; and alas! yet more than that: “they have seen and hated both me and my Father,” John 17:25; ch. 15:24.
This condition of man, however, has in no wise prevented God from accomplishing His counsels; on the contrary, this wretched state gave Him the opportunity of glorifying Himself in fulfilling them. God would not reject man until man had rejected Him; as in the garden of Eden, man, conscious of sin, unable to bear God’s presence, withdrew from Him before God had driven Him out of the garden. But now that man, on his side, had entirely rejected God come in goodness into the midst of his misery, God was free—if one may venture to speak thus, and the expression is morally correct—God was free to carry out His eternal purposes. But here God does not execute judgment, as in Eden, when man was already alienated from Him: it is sovereign grace, which, when man is evidently lost and has declared himself the enemy of God, carries on its work for the shewing forth of His glory before the whole universe in the salvation of poor sinners who had rejected Him. But in order that God’s perfect wisdom should be manifested even in the details, this work of sovereign grace, in which God revealed Himself, must be seen as having its due connection with all His previous dealings revealed in the Old Testament, and also as leaving its full place to His government of the world.
From all this it results that, apart from the main idea which predominates throughout, there are in the New Testament four subjects which unfold themselves to the eye of faith. The grand subject, the fact above all others, is that the perfect light is manifested: God reveals Himself. But this light is revealed in love, the other essential name of God.
Christ, who is the manifestation of this light and love, and who if He had been received, would have been the fulfilment of all the promises, is then presented to man, and particularly to Israel looked at in their responsibility, with every proof, personal, moral, and of power,—proofs which left this people without excuse.
Secondly, Christ being rejected—a rejection by means of which salvation was accomplished—the new order of things (the new creation, man glorified, the church sharing with Christ in heavenly glory) is put before us.
Thirdly; the connection between the old order of things and the new one upon earth, with respect to the law, the promises, the prophecies, or the divine institutions on earth, is set forth. This is done, whether in exhibiting the new order as the fulfilment and setting aside of that which had grown old, or in making evident the contrast that exists between the two, or in demonstrating the perfect wisdom of God in all the details of His ways.
Finally, the government of the world on God’s part is prophetically unfolded; and the renewal of God’s relations with Israel, whether in judgment or in blessing, is briefly but plainly stated, on the occasion of the rupture of these relations by the rejection of the Messiah.
It may be added that everything that is necessary for man, as a pilgrim upon earth, until God shall accomplish in power the purposes of His grace, is abundantly supplied. Come forth, at the call of God, from that which is rejected or condemned (and not yet put into possession of the portion which God has prepared for him) the man who has obeyed this call needs something to direct him, and to reveal to him both the sources of the strength he requires in walking towards the mark of his calling, and the means by which he can appropriate this strength. God in calling him to follow a Master whom the world has rejected, has not failed to supply him with all the light and all the directions requisite to guide and encourage him in his path.
The Gospels relate to us the history of the Lord’s life, and present Him to our hearts, whether by His actions or by His discourses, in the various characters which make Him in every way precious to the souls of the redeemed, according to the measure of intelligence vouchsafed to them, and according to their need. These characters together form the fulness of His personal glory, so far as we are capable of apprehending it here below in these our earthen vessels, saving always that which concerns the relations t>f Christ with the church; for, except the fact that Christ would build a church upon earth, it is only by the Holy Ghost, sent down after His ascension, that He made known to the apostles and prophets this priceless mystery.
The Lord, as is evident, had to unite in His Person upon earth, according to the counsels of God and according to the revelations of His word, more than one character for the accomplishment of His glory, and for the maintenance and manifestation of the glory of His Father. But in order that this might take place, He must also be something, whether we consider Him as walking down here on earth, or from the point of view of His real nature. Christ must needs accomplish the service which it behoved Him to render to God, as being Himself the true servant, and that as serving God by the word in the midst of His people, according to Psalm 40, verses 8-10 for instance, Isaiah 49:4, 5, and other passages.
A multitude of testimonies had announced that the Son of David should sit, on the part of God, upon His Father’s throne; and the fulfilment of God’s counsels as to Israel is connected, in the Old Testament, with Him who should thus come, and who on earth should stand in the relation of Son of God with Jehovah God. The Christ, the Messiah, or, as is but the translation of this name, the Anointed, was to come and present Himself to Israel, according to the revelation and the counsels of God. And this promised seed was to be Immanuel, God with the people. The expectation of the Jews scarcely went beyond this character of Christ, Messiah, and Son of David; and they looked even at that in their own way, merely as the exaltation of their own nation, having no sense of their sins, nor of the consequences of their sins.
This character of Christ, however, was not all that the prophetic word, which declared the counsels of God, had announced about Him whom even the world was expecting. He was to be the Son of man, a title which the Lord Jesus loved to give Himself, a title of great importance to us. The Son of man is, it appears to me, according to the word, the Heir of all that the counsels of God destined for man as his portion in glory, of all that God would bestow on man, according to those counsels. (See Dan. 7:13, 14, and Psa. 8:5, 6; Psa. 80:17; Prov. 8.) But in order to be Heir of all that God destined for man, Christ must be a Man. The Son of man was truly of the race of man (precious and comforting truth!) born of a woman, really and truly a man, and partaking of flesh and blood, made like unto His brethren, sin excepted. In this character He was to suffer, and be rejected, that He might inherit all things in a wholly new estate—raised and glorified. He needed to die and rise again, the inheritance being defiled, and man being in rebellion against God, the co-heirs of Christ as guilty as the rest.
Jesus, then, was to be the Servant, the great Prophet, though the Son of David, and the Son of man, and therefore truly a Man on the earth, born under the law, born of a woman, of the seed of David, Inheritor of the rights of David’s family, Heir to the destinies of man, according to the purpose and the counsels of God. But in order to this He must glorify God according to the position man was in as fallen in his responsibility, meet that responsibility so as to glorify God there; but, while here, bearing a prophet’s testimony—the faithful Witness. But who should unite all these characters in one person? Was it to be only an official glory which the Old Testament had said a man was to inherit? The condition of men, manifested under the law, and without law, proved the impossibility of making them, as they were, partakers of the blessing of God. The rejection of the Christ was the crowning proof of this impossibility. And, in fact, man needed, above all, to be himself reconciled to God, apart from all dispensation and the special government of an earthly people. Man had sinned, and redemption was necessary for the glory of God and the salvation of men. Who could accomplish it? Man needed it himself: an angel had to keep and fill his own place, and could do no more; otherwise he would not have been an angel. And who amongst men could be the heir of all things, and have all the works of God put under his dominion, according to the word? It was the Son of God who should inherit them; it was their Creator who should possess them. He, then, who was to be the Servant, the Son of David, the Son of man, the Redeemer, was the Son of God, God the Creator.
To these different aspects of Christ is due not only the special character of each of the Gospels, but also the difference that exists between the first three Gospels and that of John. The former present Christ to man, in order that man may receive Him, and they shew His rejection by man; whereas John, on the contrary, has this rejection as the starting-point of his Gospel, a Gospel which is the display of the divine nature, and that in presence of which man and the Jew were, and which they rejected: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not…”
But let us go back a little. Matthew is the fulfilment of promise and of prophecy. We find in his Gospel, Immanuel in the midst of the Jews, rejected by them, who thus stumble at the stone of offence; and then Christ is presented as being really a Sower; fruit-seeking was in vain; then come the church and the kingdom, substituted for Israel blessed according to the promises that they refused in the Person of Jesus; but after the judgment, when they shall receive Him, the Jews are recognised as objects of mercy. We do not find the ascension in Matthew; and we believe that it is for this very reason that Galilee, and not Jerusalem is the scene of the interview of the Lord with the disciples after His resurrection: Jesus is with the poor of the flock who owned the word of the Lord, there where light had sprung up to the people sitting in darkness. The commission to baptise goes forth hence, and applies to the Gentiles. Mark gives us the Servant-Prophet, the Son of God. Luke presents the Son of man, the first two chapters affording a lovely picture of the remnant in Israel. John, as we have said above, makes known to us the divine and incarnate Person of the Lord, the foundation of all blessing, and a work of atonement which is the basis even of the sinless condition of the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness; at the end, the gift of the Comforter: and all this in contrast with Judaism. Instead of tracing the Lord’s pedigree up to Abraham and David, the stocks of promise, or to Adam that, as Son of man, He might bring in blessing to man, or of relating His service in ministry as the great Prophet that was to come—John brings into the world a divine Person, the Word made flesh.
Paul and John reveal our being in a wholly new place in Christ; but John is mainly occupied with revealing to us the Father in the Son, and thus life by the Son in us; whilst Paul presents us to God, and reveals His counsels in grace. If we confine ourselves to the Epistles, Paul alone speaks of the church, except that Peter (1 Pet. 2) gives us the building of living stones, an edifice not yet completed; but Paul alone speaks of the “body.”
The Acts give us the account of the founding of the church by the Holy Ghost come down from heaven, and then the labours of the apostles at Jerusalem or in Palestine, and of other free labourers, especially the work of Peter, and afterwards that of Paul, the scripture history ending with the account of the rejection of the latter apostle’s gospel, by the Jews of the dispersion.
To expound even summarily the contents of the Epistles would lead us too far: we will confine ourselves to a few words on their chronological order, merely noticing that they develop the efficacy of Christ’s work, and the Father’s love revealed in Him.
We must place in the first rank those whose date is sure: 1 and 2 Thessalonians; 1 and 2 Corinthians; the Epistle to the Romans, those to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philip-pians, Philemon, the last four written during Paul’s captivity. The Epistle to the Galatians was written between fourteen and twenty years after the call of the apostle, and after he had laboured for some time in Asia Minor, perhaps when he was staying at Ephesus, although it was not long after the founding of the assemblies of Galatia. i Timothy was written on the occasion of the apostle leaving Ephesus, at what time exactly is not clear; 2 Timothy must be placed at the close of the apostle’s life, when he was about to suffer martyrdom. The Epistle to Titus is connected with a journey of Paul to Crete, though we do not know when this journey took place (it has been thought that it was perhaps at the time of the apostle’s sojourn at Ephesus); it is morally synchronous with 1 Timothy, for it was not God’s purpose to give us chronological dates: divine wisdom was not pleased to give this, but the moral order is quite clear, as we already see in the way in which the second epistle to Timothy is connected with the ruin of that the order of which was established by the first.
The Epistle to the Hebrews was written at a relatively late period, in view of the judgment that was going to fall upon Jerusalem: it called the Jews who had become Christians to separate themselves from that which God was about to judge.
The Epistle of James belongs to a time when this separation had in nowise taken place; Jewish Christians are there looked upon as still forming a part of that Israel which was not yet finally rejected, only owning Jesus to be the Lord of glory. Like all the Catholic Epistles, that of James was written in the last days of the apostolic history, when Christianity had gained a wide entrance into the midst of the tribes of Israel, and judgment was about to close the history of the Jews.
In 1 Peter, we see that the gospel had spread widely amongst the Jews; this Epistle is addressed to the Jewish Christians of the dispersion. The second Epistle, of course, is later, and belongs to the end of the apostle’s career, when he was about to put off his tabernacle and be separated from his brethren; he would not leave them without the warnings that apostolic care would soon no longer furnish: hence, like the Epistle of Jude, it contemplates grievous departure from the path of godliness on the part of those who had received the faith, and a mocking of the testimony that the Lord was coming.
In 1 John, the apostle insists on its being “the last time”: apostates were already manifested, apostates from the truth of Christianity, denying the Father and the Son, as well as, with Jewish unbelief, denying that Jesus was the Christ.
Jude comes morally before John; in his Epistle, we find false brethren who had furtively crept in amongst the saints, the scene extending itself, however, to the final revolt and judgment. It differs from Peter’s second Epistle in viewing the evil, not simply as wickedness, but as departure from first estate.
The Apocalypse completes the picture by shewing Christ judging in the midst of the candlesticks, the first church having left its first love, and being threatened that if it did not repent and return to its original estate, its candlestick would be removed, the final judgment being found in Thyatira and Laodicea; and then it shews the judgment of the world and the Lord’s return, the kingdom and the heavenly city, and the eternal state.
The general character of apostasy and of ruin which is stamped on all the later books of the New Testament, from the Epistle to the Hebrews to the Apocalypse, is very striking. Paul’s Epistles, except 2 Timothy, which affords individual guidance in the midst of the ruin, whilst announcing beforehand this state of things, express the labour and the care of the wise master-builder. The interest of their dates is in connection with his history in the Acts; but the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse, all shew the predicted departure already set in (Peter’s first Epistle which least of all bears this character, tells us that the time was come for judgment to begin at the house of God), and consequently the judgment of the professing church, and then, afterwards, prophetically that of the world in revolt against God. This closing character of the Catholic Epistles is very striking and instructive.10
J. N. D.
1 He only partially did so at the outset; but I speak here of the ways of God.
2 This is connected with what is said in 2 Peter 1:20, 21. The circumstances of the moment do not explain the full bearing of the prophetical scriptures; what is said forms part of the great system of God’s ways.
3 The only exception was the cursing of the fig-tree, which was the expression of this state of things, at the close of the Lord’s course here below.
4 The rejection of the Christ, come as the promised Messiah, and being at the same time God manifested in flesh—the end of God’s ways with His people, and the manifestation of man’s hatred of God coincided; and Israel’s forfeiture of all right to the promises, and man’s condemnation in his natural state, on the ground of responsibility, took place simultaneously.
5 Compare the sentence pronounced upon the woman (Gen. 3:16).
6 This may be seen, historically, in the Apocryphal Books. (See Tobit 1:6-8.)
7 There is a great difference between the David of Chronicles and that of Samuel. The king in 1 Chronicles is the David of grace and blessing according to the counsels of God. The king in Samuel is the historical David exercised in responsibility. In Chronicles we do not find the matter of Uriah nor that of Solomon. It is a question of God’s mind: no evil is reported, save that which is necessary to make us understand the history. Even Joab with all his crimes, who is not cited in 2 Samuel 5 and 23, is here mentioned because he took the stronghold of Zion. This shews what value Zion has in the eyes of God, and in what way the Chronicles regard the history. In the Book of Kings, it is the history of Israel and the conduct of the kings under responsibility.
8 I have no doubt that we have, for the spiritual eye, a hidden testimony in their persons. Elijah places again, so to speak, the violated law in Jehovah’s hands, in Horeb; then he follows each step of Israel: Gilgal, where they were set apart for God; Bethel, the place of the earthly promise made to Jacob; Jericho, the place of the curse; then the Jordan, or death; and Elijah goes up to heaven. From thence Elisha passed through death again, and enters upon his career of service. But Elijah’s miracles are miracles of judgment; Elisha’s, except the second, are miracles of goodness and grace.
9 From the French Edition, but omitted in the English Editions.
10 [It may be of interest to note, that all that concerns the Old Testament in this Introduction was writted by the author (in French) in October, 1881, namely, as far as page 34. The remainder was compiled for the French Bible which appeared early in 1885, from other writings of his that had already been published, especially from the Introduction to the Synopsis (New Testament), and the Preface to his translation of the New Testament (French).
The above translation of it was carefully compared throughout with the author’s original French MSS., and with the latest editions of the other writings referred to, one note on 1 Chronicles being added from Collected Writings, Vol. 20.]